Today more than ever, we need to educate our children about caring for the environment; what better way to accomplish this than by introducing them to the pleasures and rewards of gardening? Gardening affords us as parents the opportunity to teach children to understand and respect nature; while at the same time reinforcing valuable lessons in organization, patience and responsibility.
If you are skeptical about the logistics of getting your children involved in “greening” your own backyard, picture this scenario: squishy, cool dirt, buckets of water, mud pies, slimy worms, bugs and gum boots. Before you know it, your kids will be begging you to help in the garden. Of course, one way to really get them involved is by giving them “ownership” of their own garden. No matter where you live there is a space for a garden: a marked off section of the suburban family garden or a container or window box garden for the city dwelling family.
How does your garden grow?
- Vegetables are a reliable choice to start with. They germinate quickly and children are rewarded with the bounty of their efforts.
- Older children can plan a garden that reflects what vegetables the family enjoys eating. They can also include flowers and herbs according to their appearance and scent and their suitability as “companions” to the veggie patch.
- Even children as young as two can get in on the act by helping to dig, plant and water the family garden. Little ones especially enjoy having their own personal watering can and tools.
- Let your children be creative and don’t insist on perfection. Weeds will be missed and rows will be crooked, but that’s part of the beauty of a child’s garden.
- As the garden grows, science lessons about the life cycle of plants can be explored. Not every plant will thrive; there will be failure; this is also part of the learning process.
- Other skills called upon included maths for costing the plants, measuring fertilizer and counting seeds or bulbs.
- Keeping a gardening journal to chart their progress will help older children to be organized; this is a valuable life-enhancing skill.
- If your children are lucky enough to have a bumper crop, this is a good time to teach them the virtues of compassion and charity by donating the excess produce to those in need.
- Gardening allows for something precious that we all want to experience with our children: a relaxing time together to talk. Not just about how plants grow and how to attract birds into the garden and what place insects have in the garden, but also about everyday events like school and friends and feelings.
Some suggested plants
Vegetables such as asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, everlasting lettuces, peas, potatoes, salad onions, small golden pumpkin, radishes, sweet corn and zucchini are popular. Correct choice of vegetable is partly determined by season.
Flowers that interest children include marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, snapdragons and sunflowers.
Herbs suggestions are basil, chives, coriander, mint, parsley, tarragon and thyme, among others.
Tips for outdoor container planting with your children. How to do it.
- If you are using a flowerpot, check that it has drainage holes; put some pebbles in the bottom or bits of brick to assist with drainage and to prevent soil from escaping. A polystyrene vegetable box, (you can get this from the fruiterer) is an acceptable pot substitute.
- Fill the container with a quality potting mix, making sure that it has some sort of water saturation product in it to assist with keeping the potting mix moist.
- Choose plants that will be happy in the environment you provide.
- Pots can easily dry out and need to be planted with hardy plants and watered regularly.
- If you are growing on a balcony, it is often windy; anything that you plant needs to be able to tolerate breezes.
- Observe the amount of sunlight that your balcony gets, this too will help you decide what to plant, sun loving plants require 4 – 5 hours of sunlight.
- When you are gardening or planting with your children, overplant; they enjoy pots that are bulging with activity.
- Beans or vegetables, they can be easily started from seeds, which can be placed in moistened cotton wool. The children can watch as the roots and leaves start to develop. When the plants are bigger, they can be transferred into pots.
- Mound the potting mix generously above the level of the pot.
- Involve your children in the selection of what they plant, read the labels on the containers or packets, or ask the sales assistant to help them to choose.
What to plant.
Food:Children love to grow anything that is edible, therefore consider planting vegetables, fruits or herbs. Our suggestions for containers are carrots, parsley, mint, broad and green beans, cherry tomatoes, oregano, strawberries.
Colour:If you just want some easy colourful smallish plants, then geraniums are a good choice. Alternatively, a pot of seasonal bulbs and annuals can be really rewarding. Buy a bulb or two, bury it in the pot, and then on the surface plant with any annuals that take your fancy; pansies, alyssum, lobelia or polyanthus work well together. It is exciting to watch as the plants establish themselves and the highlight of all is when the bulbs finally start to peak through.
Something that will last: Small trees or shrubs that work well in containers are olive trees and cumquats, or a standard fuschia.
“Plant a seed and watch it grow.” When children are exposed to the wonder and delight of feeling the cool earth flow through their fingers as they dig deep to plant a seed, a powerful phenomenon takes place. Suddenly there’s a part of their world over which they have control.
The advantages of gardening are numerous. These include teaching your child respect for the environment; enhancing their skills in a fun way – planning, organization and responsibility; new opportunities for communication and sharing between parent and child. One of the greatest pleasures is to ask your child to go to their garden to pick a herb or vegetable required for the evening meal. What a delight!